Friday, April 26

Ola Bola, a return to glory days

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LAST week I went to see the film ‘Ola Bola’. The film is loosely based on the glory days of the Malaysian football team that vied for qualification to the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It is the story of an underdog football team that fought against all odds. Many of the players had issues with family commitment, others had to overcome the demon of personal ego and still others, regional jealousy; despite all this they managed to unite under the one flag and emerged triumphant.

One reviewer describes it as a feel-good movie. How shallow

of him. It is more than that. It is an inspirational movie. It is a movie that makes us hanker for the days that one columnist described as “when we were beautiful”. It is inspirational because it gives us hope, that despite the present dark days, we can, like that Malaysian team of 1980, once again recapture our glory days.

However, since its release, the film has gathered as many brickbats as bouquets. The brickbats coming mostly from the patriots of the ‘Land Below the Wind”, who, in a fit of paranoia and parochialism, vented their anger on Facebook.

Here are some of the choice remarks:

“It was a Sabahan who scored the historic goal, never understand why the movie depicted Ali as the scorer. Why change the proud history of Malaysian football? This is a very poor presentation of Malaysia’s football history. ‘Ola Bola’, you cheat.”

“The younger and future generations MUST know the TRUE facts of Malaysian football.”

“All of us here have a very strong feeling about being a Sabahan and the way we have been treated by our West Malaysian counterparts.”

“I was going to watch it few days ago in KL due to rave reviews but my brother-in-law and friends confirmed that they changed the goal scorer. So, don’t waste your money and time to watch the movie.”

It is said: “there is no such thing as bad publicity”. And Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the Irish playwright, essayist, and poet, was quoted to have said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” So, Chiu Keng Guan, the director of the Malaysian film ‘Ola Bola’ must be a happy man.

I don’t normally watch Malaysian made films. I tried a few times and was rather disappointed. However, since I am addicted to films (I watch a movie every Sunday), I am reduced to Hollywood escapist movies. Well, if one doesn’t mind the storyline (or lack of) and just want to be dazzled by the computer-generated imagery (CGI) and the gore and car chases, it is fine to put one’s brain on pause. Had it not been for the firestorm of criticism directed at the film and in particular, the call to boycott it, I would not have gone to see ‘Ola Bola’.

I emerged from the film a ‘born-again’ lover of Malaysian cinema. I say ‘born-again’ because as a kid, my family loved the then Malayan films, particularly by the beloved legend and genius P Ramlee. My dad at a time used to run an itinerant cinema, plying the rivers of Mukah and Dalat showing Malay and Indian movies, hence our love of movies. However, since the demise of the Malayan film industry in the 60s I have transferred my allegiance to Hollywood. Frankly speaking, we do not have a choice.

So, now I am going to stick my neck out and I hope my fellow East Malaysians would be more forgiving and withhold their sticks. ‘Ola Bola’ is one of the best movies I have seen for a long while. To me it is better than those over-budgeted Hollywood flicks that gross over US$1 billion at the box office. Okay, the actors do not have the slickness of Hollywood stars and the technical aspects are not as dazzling but it has a story and it has a decent message. Hollywood has been spreading the cult of individualism for decades and we seem to have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Note how everything is reduced to the heroics of one individual, a Bruce Willis, a Tom Cruise, etc. Be it an impending disaster of an earthquake, a flood, an alien invasion and in one case, the end of the world, it is always the one hero who saves the day. Yeah!

‘Ola Bola’ is a story about personal struggle, about a group of people finding the heart to work together to create a team. Someone put it beautifully when he said, “Malaysian players then were amateurs who played to a professional standard.”

To those of us who are so incensed about the so-called inaccuracy of the movie – in real life it was James Wong, a Sabahan, who scored the winning goal, in real life the scoreline was 2 to 1, (not 3-2) – perhaps we should chill out. It is a movie inspired by real events. It is fiction not a docudrama. I don’t believe that it is an attempt to mislead the youths who were not born yet during those historic times.

I suppose had Chiu known that in exercising his artistic licence he would have caused such a storm of protests, he might very well have depicted a Sabahan as the scorer of that epic goal.

Oh, as a postscript, I want to add my bit of criticism. In the movie, Eric (who appeared to be James Wong) was bullied quite a bit. If anyone knows James Wong, the footballer, he is an imposing figure standing at least six feet tall and was a formidable striker. I don’t believe his team-mates could have pushed him around.

I believe ‘Ola Bola’ is still on. Go and watch it. Oh, by the way, please don’t buy the pirated copy of the movie.